Since being appointed the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA in 2007, Bergdoll has been widely praised for topical, popular and engaging shows, including a 2008 exhibition called “Home Delivery” that focused on new developments in pre-fabricated housing. The show spilled out of the museum into a nearby open lot that was full of small housing units open to visitors. A 2012 show, “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream,” also invited teams of architects and other professionals to present possibilities emerging from one of the greatest economic and urban crises of the past century.
“He has become very interested in some of the more contemporary issues,” says Cropper, including housing and sustainability. Bergdoll has used his position at MoMA to open the museum up to “a more worldwide set of questions.”
Thinking back on his recent work at MoMA, Bergdoll stresses the interactive process of shows such as “Foreclosed” and “Rising Currents,” which used models, maps, drawings, video and other media to propose architectural interventions in the New York waterfront, over the purely visual or aesthetic presentation of the results. He was particularly pleased that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan visited an open house event that was part of the “Foreclosed” show. By stressing process, Bergdoll hopes to “demystify” architecture.
“Instead of putting architecture in the museum so people can come and stand in awe of it, I want to open it up,” he says, meaning giving people insight into how architects research and refine issues, how they make decisions, and what the options are.
Bergdoll’s last lecture is titled “Architecture and the Rise of the Event Economy.” Without going deeply into the lecture’s focus, Bergdoll says that he will have to tip his hand about his own view of where architecture is today. It’s easy to see one very powerful trend in contemporary architecture — buildings designed mainly for “wow” factor, to overwhelm through visual impact, and often to represent powerful new government or economic forces rising throughout the world — that may fall far from Bergdoll’s scholarly and practical emphasis on open public process and engagement. Anyone who has visited countries such as the United Arab Emirates, or China, and confronted the powerful tools for marketing monumental architecture through slick models, video and other media, will wonder if the history of exhibiting architecture has brought us far from the Enlightenment idealism of opening up a new public forum for discussing the discipline.
“I decided that since I am a practicing curator, that when it got to the present, it would be disingenuous if I didn’t talk about my own beliefs and practices as a curator,” says Bergdoll. The last talk, he says, will be a hybrid of history and other things, including “a bit of a manifesto of what I believe are the possibilities of an architectural exhibition in the 21st century.”
The 62nd A.W. Mellon Lectures, delivered by Barry Bergdoll, begin Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art and continue every Sunday through May 12. For more information, visit www.nga.gov.